January 26, 2024
JAKARTA – Signs of fractures within President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration over electoral politics have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the government in the President’s last year in office, amid accusations that top officials are covertly backing certain candidates.
Speculation about mass cabinet resignations and fresh admissions of growing unease among ministers in the lead up to the February poll have cast a shadow over Jokowi’s final months in office.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD claimed in a YouTube interview on Thursday that interactions among ministers at cabinet meetings were not as warm as before.
“In meetings, usually, in the past, there was a lot of joking around before they started. Once [the meeting] began, it turned serious. When the meeting finished, we joked around again,” Mahfud told interviewer and economist Rhenald Kasali. “But now when we enter, there are no more jokes.”
Mahfud, who is also running for vice president on presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo’s ticket, said on Tuesday that he had been planning to quit the cabinet in protest against unnamed ministers who, he claimed, had been quietly backing certain candidates.
His statement followed a call from his running mate Ganjar for all candidates and campaigners to resign from their government posts to prevent the abuse of state power.
The cabinet rift comes amid growing accusations that Jokowi has been maneuvering to cling to power and establish a political dynasty of his own by marshaling support for presidential front-runner and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who is running alongside the President’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said on Thursday that some awkwardness had been apparent among cabinet members as a result of political differences, although he said the relationships had not turned cold.
“There has been a little bit [of awkwardness]. It’s a political year,” Muhadjir said.
“This situation had been anticipated,” he added. “The President warned two years ago about the need to anticipate a work atmosphere that would not be too conducive during the political year. That way we would be psychologically ready.”
Last week, University of Indonesia (UI) economist Faisal Basri said at a public forum that 15 ministers were planning to resign over concerns about a government ethics breach following a controversial Constitutional Court ruling that allowed Gibran to run for vice president.
These figures, he said, included Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono.
Jokowi’s appointment of his longtime ally Communications and Information Minister Budi Arie Setiadi as interim foreign minister this week has fueled further speculation that Retno plans to resign from her post, which the President and his office deny.
Sri Mulyani has brushed aside questions from reporters about the resignation rumors, replying, “I’m working.”
In response to similar questions, Retno has said she is preoccupied with her overseas schedule.
The President has claimed the cabinet remains solid and all ministers are committed to their roles until the end of his term.
He insisted on Tuesday that a sitting president was free to back any presidential candidate and that he was entitled to campaign for the candidate of his choice in his free time, provided he made no use of government resources while doing so.
Since the President made the remark, activists, civil society groups and scholars have been calling on him to retract his statement over fears that it could encourage the state apparatus to take sides and undermine democratic principles in the coming election.
Some say Jokowi’s apparent bias could cause further discord within the cabinet.
“Allowing himself and ministers to take sides and campaign for a particular candidate could potentially provoke open conflict among ministers and with the President himself,” said analyst Adi Prayitno.
Allowing such a situation to occur would be “unproductive” for Jokowi, who had less than nine months left in office, said Aditya Perdana, a political science lecturer at UI.
“The minds of many ministers will be too occupied with campaigning rather than running the government or ensuring Jokowi’s final-term programs are realized,” Aditya said.